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Sep 1, 2014

Micah Richards' move to Fiorentina is regrettable but necessary

Micah Richards was once Manchester City's youngest captain; now he's about to embark on a season-long loan at Fiorentina.

"Sentiment is a chemical defect found in the losing side." Those were words spoken by Sherlock Holmes in the BBC's recent adaptation, as he was explaining how he had solved the case in spectacular style at the very last second. While it may have been a modern dramatisation of the Arthur Conan Doyle classic, the words do hold some merit.

See, there's a lot of sentimentality at Manchester City surrounding one player in particular -- and it's entirely understandable. Micah Richards is the Blues' longest-serving squad member, having made his debut in 2005.

Putting that into perspective, that's five managers, two takeovers, four major domestic trophies, two league titles and four Champions League qualifications ago. A lot has changed at Eastlands since Richards' first-team career began.

It was a simpler time. City were in the throes of not really knowing where they stood in the Premier League hierarchy, when a good season could see them in the race to qualify for the UEFA Cup and a bad campaign could mean relegation was a very real possibility. As an exciting shining light, Richards burst onto the scene, quickly putting in displays to keep Danny Mills out of the team.

Most City fans won't remember his debut, as he came on from the bench at Highbury. He joined the action with five minutes to play, as the visitors lost 1-0 in a game that will be widely remembered for a bizarre "passed" penalty by Robert Pires.

The following February, however, Richards suddenly found himself catapulted into the limelight of not just City fans. At just 17 years of age, he wrote himself into TV blooper history -- having scored a dramatic late equaliser for Stuart Pearce's Blues at Villa Park in the FA Cup to earn a replay, he was interviewed live on BBC One on a Saturday evening by Garth Crooks. It'll be a moment everyone remembers, as he was so excited at getting his first goal for the club that he swore in front of the nation.

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It became a little habit of his: he did it again after the FA Cup final win in 2011. Maybe it's something about that competition.

Richards excelled at such a young age that it was natural for his form to slump somewhat. Throughout the 2006-07 season he established himself in the team and, when new manager Sven-Goran Eriksson came in and believed in him, it looked like nothing could stop him. He became the club's youngest-ever captain in their 1-0 win over Aston Villa in September 2007.

Perhaps it's a running problem with those who flourish young, but following an injury, Richards couldn't hit the heights of his previous form. It's a situation facing Matija Nastasic, who despite a brilliant first season with the club seems to have lost the trust of Manuel Pellegrini. Something similar happened to the England defender as Sven left and Mark Hughes arrived.

The full-back never quite fulfilled the early promise he had shown, although it didn't help that the team under Hughes was nowhere near what it should have been. Christmas in the relegation zone in 2008 wasn't planned, while captain Richard Dunne's form dropped significantly from the years before. The turbulence can't have helped the youngster, who was again finding himself hindered by injuries.

It was always difficult for the fans, though. He was a likeable character, who was always around the club and always had a smile on his face. There was certainly no lack of trying on his part, but by the time Hughes was sacked in 2009, there were serious question marks about whether Richards would return to his form. And it was under Roberto Mancini that he did.

The game in which it all changed was another FA Cup tie. The Blues travelled to Notts County and had fallen a goal down. It was then that Mancini discovered a weapon that would be so vital to his armoury in the title-winning 2011-12 season: the runaway-train runs down the right flank. Richards powered up and down the wing -- much in the manner fans have since been accustomed to seeing with Pablo Zabaleta -- and he changed the game, providing the cross from which Edin Dzeko equalised.

As bad as Richards' luck has been in recent seasons it could be very difficult to remember him at his best. Marauding down the flank was his forte, and the combination of him and James Milner were a big part of why City were able to win 6-1 at Old Trafford.

In fact, but for an injury towards the end of the 2011-12 season, Zabaleta might never have had the chance to prove how good he can be. The only reason the Argentine played during the run-in was the Englishman wasn't fit and then Mancini decided to remain unchanged for the sake of stability. For that title-winning campaign, Richards was a player of the year contender at the Etihad.

A year later and it had all gone wrong, thanks to the form of Zabaleta and a combination of injuries the Englishman suffered. Having fought back to full fitness in October 2012, just four games into his return he was carried off against Swansea and didn't return for six months.

By the time Pellegrini arrived, it was clear Richards had the biggest catch-22. He needed game time to recapture his fitness and form, but he wasn't going to get that because City couldn't afford to risk a defender who was struggling at the expense of one who was putting in the best displays of his career.

The arrival of Bacary Sagna was the final nail in Richards' coffin.

It's with a heavy heart that the full-back departs, as he finalises a deal with Fiorentina on a season-long loan. He might have not have the best of finishes to his career at the Etihad, but he'll always be remembered as one of the City greats and one of those who was with the club through the bad and the good times -- and, should he return with the opposition, he will always be very welcome.

Sadly for City fans and sadly for Richards himself, for the good of his career, he needs to be playing regularly.

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